Adrian Cooper has been unwell

Old reviews that are no longer available online, or from sites that no longer exist. The pen is dead, long live the camera.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Reading Festival, 1998

Saturday starts with Inner Sleeve, somehow resurrecting the career of one of the blokes from Chapterhouse, whose pop-tinted plundering of shoegazing would surely have been cause for celebration for the audience as well as the band this time round, had they actually have been included on the main running order.

Instead, Seafood and Llama Farmers kick-start the afternoon as ambassadors of the new British grunge, and the Nirvana T-shirt clad masses dutifully descend on the Melody Maker tent. Seafood are obviously impaired from the temporary loss of a guitarist after a bizarre slashed-hand incident, and as they so deftly put it, their set is left sonically challenged. After subdued versions of 'Porchlight' and 'Psychic Rainy Nights', and a brave but ultimately foolish rendition of the Pixies' 'Wave Of Mutilation', Seafood bury 'Walking In The Air' (yes, that 'Walking In The Air') in feedback, dragging notes and chords out of the noise as though exhuming the corpse of Aled Jones and giving him a beating until more than just his voice has broken.

Llama Farmers follow this with excerpts from the 'teach yourself grunge' handbook, but fortunately don't seem to have got as far as the chapter titled 'get stroppy and shoot yourself'. However, the majority of the set suffers from being unfamiliar and it is only the recent singles that really show why the Llama Farmers may be worth shouting about in a year's time. The Mudhoney appreciation club is later brought to a close by Idlewild, but a seriously congested line-up on the third stage means that their frantic guitar-abusing squall has to be missed on this occasion, though their continued excellence is confirmed by the number of Idlewild T-shirts seen wandering about increasing rapidly for the rest of the weekend.

Clinic, proving themselves to be the by-product of an illicit meeting between the Buzzcocks and Quickspace, go all art-punk on us, and drone and thrash their way through my sunstroke ravaged mind until nothing can be done except proclaim them saviours of Liverpool's musical heritage. Electric Sound of Joy remind me that I'm not the only one feeling dazed and ever so slightly confused by the heat, as they do their Stereolab-esque krautrock thing having neglected to replace their singer after he did a runner earlier this year.

The Syd Barrett award for weirdest band of the weekend goes to Ten Benson, who turn up in their pizza-parlour waiter uniforms, and proceed to jerk and jiggle their way around the stage singing about claws and bizarre relatives to a soundtrack of seedy countrified lo-fi.

Hefner return proceedings to a more recognisable level, and show us that it's possible to be twee without turning into Belle and Sebastian. All it takes is a love of the Beach Boys, a few Violent Femmes and Smiths albums, and the realisation that, not only do your fans want to see you play live, they want to be able to hear you as well. On stage, Darren is an unlikely combination of reluctant frontman and ascendant star, becoming more comfortable with the audience with each burst of rapturous applause, his shyness overcome by the desperate need to entertain. Elliott Smith swaps the Grammy award ceremony for provincial farmland, and his melancholic tales of woe and loss bring to mind Will Oldham or a particularly sad Lou Barlow, showing why he deserves to be mixing with people other than the likes of Celine Dion.

The spirit of riot-grrrl is revived with the excellent Sleater-Kinney. However, sometime over the past five years, Sleater-Kinney have done what most of the other girl-boy revolutionaries failed to, and realised that attitude is so much more powerful when backed up with a decent amount of aptitude. Their stripped down garage sound is driven into our heads as the twin vocals and guitar assault rips through the tent, punches us in the face and kicks us in the groin until we submit. Sleater-Kinney are Germaine Greer to Huggy Bear's Valerie Solanas, and if they had been around in riot-grrrl's hey day, the movement may have been taken much more seriously.

Warm Jets unveil yet another personnel change, with former Strangelove guitarist Alex Lee joining a band now almost unrecognisable, in sound as well as appearance, from the one responsible for last year's lacklustre performance. The dirtiest-sounding bass this side of the Pixies underpins the jagged, distorted guitar, swirling keyboards and Louis's Bowie styled tones. Surely now there is little that can stand in the way of the Jets being more than just another obscure Brian Eno reference although, in the light of the restructuring of the band, drummer Ed would be forgiven for if he's a bit worried about how much longer he has left.

Bizarrely only headlining the Saturday night when the Sunday would have been far more appropriate, the Beastie Boys are here to make with the freak freak regardless. Suddenly, it's time to get ill, and as Reading shakes it's rump, the b-boys are rhymin' and stealin', fighting for your right to party, and reminding the Prodigy that it's impolite to smack your bitch up.

Irrespective of their philosophies and opinions, the Beastie Boys remain the ultimate entertainers, looking like Kwik-Fit fitters with attitude in their ludicrous orange overalls, jumping from old-skool hip-hop to dumb-ass punk, while still finding time to discuss the American bombing of terrorist sites. Tonight the funky bosses really are finger lickin' good.